Tomorrow is supposed to be the last day of the Paris climate summit, but at this point it’s looking like a pretty good bet that discussions will spill over into the weekend as negotiators continue to attempt to iron out a number of serious points of contention. But let’s start with the successes: On the penultimate (scheduled) day of the conference, the French hosts have submitted a proposal for a slimmer draft text, down to 29 pages from 43 earlier this week.
And that’s about it for positive Paris progress. Let’s take a look at the problems that remain, starting with this new draft text. Just as was the case with the text in the run-up to this summit, the document negotiators are parsing is chock-full of bracketed clauses, each representing a remaining point of dispute. Reuters provides an example of one such disagreement in phrasing:
One option favored by developing nations says “financial resources shall be scaled up from a floor of $100 billion per year” beyond 2020. Another option, which is favored by rich nations, is vaguer and says countries should “enhance the scale and effectiveness of climate finance”.
This is not a trivial disagreement, either. In fact, the divide between the developed and the developing world on what to do about “climate financing”—UN-speak for money paid to poorer countries to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change—is the most important issue being discussed by the summit’s delegates. John Kerry promised earlier this week to double American financial contributions in the form of public grants, from last year’s $430 million total to $860 million by 2020. But $860 million isn’t a lot of money when you put it up against the $100 billion annual fund promised at the 2009 Copenhagen summit. Given the noises being heard out of the American Congress, the developing world shouldn’t hold its breath for much more U.S. cash, either.
Talks are also being bogged down by disagreements over the details of a review mechanism for countries’ climate commitments called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Gulf nations, along with China, are throwing a wrench in the works over concerns about how transparent the data needs to be, and how often these INDC reviews and updates ought to occur. But while these debates were to be expected, another argument has cropped up that comes as something of a surprise. Reuters reports:
With the unexpected support of the United States and Europe, the agreement, due to be completed within days, could go beyond the current goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels…Instead, according to the latest draft and negotiators, it may state a goal of keeping the rise to “well below” 2C, and recognize the need to aim for just 1.5 degrees. […]
More than 100 developing nations want the agreement to include a long-term goal to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, even though the emissions cuts that countries have pledged to make over the coming decade are far from achieving that limit.
This one is hard to understand. A binding global treaty isn’t in the cards, and instead negotiators have moved on to discussing how to keep member states to their national pledges (the aforementioned INDCs), a plan which, lacking any enforcement mechanisms, amounts to little more than naming and shaming. That leaves us with just the aggregation of national commitments, but as Bjorn Lomborg points out, the sum of those pledges (which only extend to 2030) would reduce global temperatures by just 0.048°C by 2100. Even if those pledges were extended through the end of the century, they would only cut temperatures by 0.17°C. Delegates can talk about intentions and aspirations all they want, but there is no realistic strategy under discussion that would bring about this suddenly more ambitious goal.
And in a way, that says everything about these talks. There’s no shortage of nice-sounding rhetoric and discussion of what should be done, but there’s nothing backing up all of this talk. With one (official) day left, just three details remain: what the goal actually is, how to achieve it, and who is going to pay for it. Other than that…consensus!